What makes Liverpool tick?
We give you three tactical take-aways from Liverpool’s current set-up
Intensity and flying full-backs key to their success
Xavi gives his take on what Jurgen Klopp has built
Liverpool have been playing mouth-watering football in recent months. Fluidity and solidity blend into an overwhelming river of red, whether trying to break them down or desperately contain them.
Fans and pundits have been waxing lyrical about them at every opportunity as they steamroll their way through the English Premier League season, but what’s been at the heart of it?
If you’ve missed out on taking in the latest incarnation of Klopp’s side, we bring you three things that help define the European champions’ tactical set-up.
1. Fed by world-class full-backs
Despite being just 21 and 25, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have become the key attacking catalysts for Liverpool over the last season and a half. With pace, confidence and a well-stocked arsenal of deliveries at their disposal, they make for an unpredictable and reliable source of ammo.
But, crucially, they dovetail superbly with the inverted wingers of Sadio Mane (left flank, right-footed) and Mohamed Salah (right flank, left-footed). Creating wide overloads and teasing open gaps in the channels, the defensive duo not only provide the service, but also time and space for the African goal machines to flourish.
2. Firmino’s selflessness
While the full-backs provide a more high-octane key to the Reds’ acting output, much of Roberto Firmino’s excellence comes from the more subtler elements of his game. The Brazilian has dazzled with moments of sublime nonchalance, but arguably his manipulation of space is where his impact can be felt most.
Having operated as an attacking midfielder at Hoffenheim, and grown into a clinical finisher, he is a natural false nine. Dropping off the front line, he too helps create avenues for his fellow forwards to drive into by disrupting the centre-backs, while he can equally push tight to the defensive line and feed runners from midfield with his back to goal. Without the ball, he quickly becomes the front line of defence.
3. Transitional dominance
With the top teams on the planet so finely drilled and organised, exploiting weaknesses is often something achieved in the split seconds, rather than through measured attrition. Ask top coaches what the key preparations for victory are and being effective in transition – the moment when possession is either lost or gained – won’t be far down the list.
Klopp’s iconic gegenpress at Borussia Dortmund (which saw his side quickly press to regain the ball after losing possession) has developed at Liverpool and, when the opportunity arises, they can be lethal when turning over the ball. When asked what they felt their team was world class at, there’s a reason Mane and Trent Alexander-Arnold said pressing, counter-pressing and their overall intensity.
They are fuelled by a well-stocked midfield full of dynamism, mobility and smart passing range, with rigorous organisation, discipline and wealth of wide options to instantly stretch play. Dally on the ball and things can turn from frustration to despair in a matter of seconds.
What the experts say
Xavi, former Barcelona star and current Al Sadd coach
“When Jurgen Klopp came in, the one worry for me as a Liverpool supporter was whether he would evolve, adapt, change, really from 4-3-3, constant pressing all the time. Will his teams ever not be involved in end-to-end basketball games? Will he sort the defence out? I didn’t think he would. [The success they’ve had] is because of the changes Klopp has brought in and that’s the biggest testament to him as a manager.”
Jamie Carragher, former Liverpool defender
“Liverpool don’t half stretch teams. Width-wise, they make the pitch huge with their full-backs Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. They do it very, very well. They’re looking brilliant."
Alan Shearer, Premier League’s all-time top scorer
“I think if you lost both those full-backs it’d impact Liverpool as much as their two main strikers (Mane and Salah). They are fabulous. If anything happened to those two I think it would diminish their attacking prowess enormously.”
Graeme Souness, two-time European Cup winner with Liverpool.